Memories fade as we grow older, but thankfully we have photographs to remind us of those bygone days.
A cursory glance of what’s filling the photography shelves in bookshops these days will reveal a lot of titles dedicated to images of yesteryear, probably aimed at baby boomers with spare time and spare cash wanting a keepsake of those days when our city streets were filled with Morris Minors and EH Holdens and suited men in hats and women in elegant dresses kept a steady pace on the footpaths leading to the railway station where they lit up a Rothmans Special, bought the evening newspaper then boarded a smoke-filled train for the ride home, while the main streets of rural townships were graced by timber or wrought iron verandahs where you could pull up at a petrol bowser and wait for a mechanic in greasy overalls to come out and check your oil, fill your tank and ask how the missus was going.
The smart photographers of yesteryear were those who took simple vistas of our city and rural streetscapes and are now cashing in on the lucrative nostalgia market. It’s not so much the photographic techniques in those images that are admired, nor their overall photographic quality, even if those photographs are wonderful examples of their genre. Rather, it’s the details that attract attention: the architecture (particularly those buildings no longer standing), shop signage (particularly brands no longer available), the cars and public transport, and the fashion.
In recent years the worth of the work of Mark Strizic and Fred Mitchell, and more recently Angus O’Callaghan and Warren Kirk has grown the more their photographs have aged. When we look at their photographs there’s something of a lament. We’ll never see those buildings and signs and cars and clothes again (actually, flares did resurface briefly in the mid 1990s to no one’s delight). But we’re also lamenting a way of life we’ll never see or experience again, and so these books become like old photo albums. We see parts of our childhood in those images, and sure we might cringe at what people once wore, at how basic the transport was, and at how billboard ads spruiked the “pleasure” of cigarettes. But they remind us of when life was simpler because we didn’t then have the worries that come with adulthood.
What’s the point of all this, you ask?
Simply to take photos of wherever you live and whatever you do. Get your camera out and photograph the main street of your own suburb’s shopping strip or city skyline and return to that same vantage point and repeat the process year after year after year. Take a family photo in front of your house each year, and while you’re at it, take a shot of the street. The fence will one day change, as will the house’s paintwork. So will your clothes. So will the car. And pet. Trees will get bigger and others will grow. So will the family. And one day in the future you’ll have fun reliving those times. That’s the power of photographs – they lock in time and place. And who knows – one day it might be one of your books lining the photography shelves…